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Spears v. Haynes

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

January 16, 2020

BETTY JEAN SPEARS, Appellant
v.
ALFORD HAYNES, Appellee

          Submitted on October 2, 2019

          On Appeal from the 60th District Court Jefferson County, Texas Trial Cause No. B-197, 505

          Before Kreger, Horton and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HOLLIS HORTON JUSTICE

         Betty Jean Spears appeals from a summary-judgment ruling where the trial court found Spears lost the property she owned after the property was sold in a non-judicial foreclosure sale that occurred in 2015.[1] The property at issue in the dispute is located in Beaumont, Texas. The suit subject to appeal began when Spears sued Alford Haynes, the individual who purchased the property from the entity that acquired it at foreclosure. Haynes moved for summary judgment on Spears's claims alleging she owned the property. He also moved to dismiss or to grant his request for summary judgment on Spears's claim alleging she had the right to continue living on the property as a tenant.

         For the reasons explained below, we affirm the judgment in part, and we reverse the judgment in part.

         Background

         In July 1999, Associates Financial Services Company of Texas, Inc. (Associates Financial) loaned Spears $47, 311[2] under the terms of a written, home-equity loan. Spears signed a deed of trust to support the loan, mortgaging the property at issue in the appeal.

         Between 1999 and November 2013, four separate entities, or holders in due course, acquired Spears's note. One of these, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., sued Spears in 2012 to foreclose when Spears defaulted on the obligation she had to make the monthly payments required by her note.[3] We discuss the suit between Spears and Wells Fargo in some detail because Haynes argues in his motion for summary judgment that Spears lost her rights in the property at issue after Wells Fargo foreclosed on Spears's note. In his motion for summary judgment and the documents attached to it, Haynes showed Wells Fargo, in its suit against Spears, asked the 136th District Court for the following: (1) to issue a declaratory judgment that it owned the property described in the deed of trust that Spears had signed when she collateralized her home-equity loan; (2) to reform the legal description of the property as it is found in the deed of trust;[4] (3) to reform the property descriptions in the various assignments that had been made over the years when the entities acquired Spears's note; and (4) to declare that Wells Fargo's lien on the property was valid, given the terms in the deed of trust. To establish Spears no longer owned the residence, Haynes included certified copies of the home-equity loan documents and the document that Spears signed pledging the residence as collateral with his motion for summary judgment. The loan documents Spears signed are file stamped, and the stamps reflect the documents were duly filed in real property records that are maintained in Jefferson County.

         In 2013, the 136th District Court issued a final judgment in the Spears/Wells Fargo suit. In its judgment, the trial court found Spears "in default." The 136th District Court also found Wells Fargo to be "the beneficiary of [the] agreement on the property made the basis of [the] lawsuit." The judgment contains language that reformed the property descriptions in the documents relevant to Spears's note and the various assignments relevant to Wells Fargo's lien. Finally, the 136th District Court's judgment expressly allowed Wells Fargo to enforce its lien "by a non-judicial foreclosure action [as allowed under the Texas Constitution and Property Code]."[5]

         While Wells Fargo obtained the above-described judgment in its suit against Spears, it did not then follow up on the judgment and sell Spears's property in a non- judicial foreclosure sale. Instead, Wells Fargo chose to assign its rights to Spears's loan and in the judgment to Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC (Bayview). At Bayview's request, the substitute trustee posted the property for sale in 2015. The property was then sold by the substitute trustee in a non-judicial foreclosure sale conducted in 2015.

         Bayview, the entity that held Spears's note in 2015, was the successful bidder at the sale. Afterward, the substitute trustee signed a substitute-trustee's deed that conveys legal title in the property to Bayview. The recitations in the substitute-trustee's deed state that Bayview purchased the property from the substitute trustee for $56, 070.

         In 2015, Haynes purchased the property from Bayview, and Bayview gave Haynes a special warranty deed evidencing the transaction.[6] Copies of the documents relevant to Haynes's transaction with Bayview are attached to Haynes's motion for summary judgment. After purchasing the property, Haynes sued to evict Spears from the property. While Haynes and Spears both mention eviction proceedings in their pleadings, neither party filed pleadings relevant to the eviction case in the case at issue in this appeal. After Haynes sued Spears in a justice court to evict her from the property, Spears sued Haynes in the 60th District Court, alleging Haynes had slandered the title to her property, clouded its title, and damaged her by wrongfully suing her for eviction.

         Just over two years after Spears sued Haynes, Haynes moved for summary judgment or to dismiss Spears's claims. With respect to the claims that involved who owned the property, Haynes's motion alleges Spears lost her rights to the property at foreclosure. As to her wrongful eviction claim, Haynes asked the trial court to dismiss the claim on two grounds, arguing that justice courts, not district courts, have exclusive jurisdiction over that type of claim. And Haynes also claimed that the judgment of eviction, which he claimed the justice court issued, resolved whether Spears had a right to remain on the property as a tenant.

         Haynes filed his affidavit as further support for his motion. The affidavit states: (1) Haynes purchased the residence from Bayview for $53, 550 in a sale that was conducted over the internet; (2) he knew Bayview acquired the property in a foreclosure sale; (3) when he purchased the property from Bayview, he did not know that Spears still claimed she owned the property; (4) he did not know that Spears still lived in the residence on the property when he purchased it; and (5) he described his transaction with Bayview as "an arm's length transaction."

         Issues

         In four issues, Spears argues (1) the trial court erred by failing to honor her request to reduce the court's findings and conclusions to writing, (2) the trial court's failure to honor her request for written findings has prevented her from presenting her case properly on appeal, (3) the trial court erred by granting Haynes's motion for summary judgment, and (4) the trial court erred by failing to grant her motion for rehearing.

         Issues One and Two, The Lack of Findings and Conclusions

         Spears's first two issues complain about the trial court's refusal to comply with her written request for findings and conclusions. Before reaching the merits of her first two issues, however, we must decide if Spears preserved her right to appellate review of a complaint alleging the trial court failed to honor her request for written findings.

         To preserve a right to appellate review of a complaint about a trial court's failure to provide a party with written findings, the record must show the party requesting the findings both filed a request and then, when the trial court failed to provide them, filed a written reminder notifying the trial court that it had not complied with the party's request for findings.[7] In her appeal, Spears suggests the law placed a duty on the trial court to remind her that it did not intend to comply with her request. The Rules of Civil Procedure, however, do not place that duty on the trial court. Instead, the Rules burden the party who asked for written findings to notify the trial court, in writing, that the trial court had failed to comply with that party's request.[8]

         Spears did not file the required written notice notifying the trial court that it failed to comply with her request. Consequently, Spears failed to preserve her right to complain about the alleged error in her appeal.[9]

         In issue two, Spears contends the lack of written findings has prevented her from properly presenting her case on appeal.[10] We disagree. A party's burden to establish it is entitled to summary judgment requires the party filing the motion prove it is entitled to a judgment in its favor as a matter of law.[11] This appeal concerns a ruling made on a motion for summary judgment. When requests for findings are made in cases involving rulings on motions for summary judgment, trial courts may-but are not required-to provide the parties with their findings.[12] The reason no findings are required by the law is that the findings are not needed for the purposes of an appeal. That is because the courts need only determine whether the evidence established a matter at issue in the motion as a matter of law. Written findings are therefore not needed to review the ruling because the record, without more, allows the appellate court to determine whether the trial court could grant or deny the motion.[13]

         We conclude that Spears's first two issues are either unpreserved for our review or have no merit. Both are overruled.

         Issue Three, Spears's Ownership and Wrongful Eviction Claims

         Standard of Review

         In issue three, Spears presents three arguments, two supporting her claim that Haynes failed to establish as a matter of law that she no longer owns the property, and one claiming the trial court erred by concluding it did not have jurisdiction over her wrongful eviction claim.[14] We note that the scope of our review is limited to the issues Haynes argued in his motion.[15]

         We briefly note the standard of review that applies to our review of a trial court's summary-judgment ruling. Appellate courts review such rulings using a de novo standard.[16] If the trial court's ruling required the trial court to examine evidence, the evidence the court considered is reviewed, in the appeal, "'in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, indulging every reasonable ...


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